Archive:

June 2013, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Edward Snowden And Tyler Kent:  Edward Snowden reminds me of another young man, Tyler Kent, who thought that exposing our secrets before we got into World War II was the right thing to do.

Kent was caught at a key time, and in a key place: May 1940, London.
The worst of the leaks took place in London, where Tyler Kent, a bright, handsome, but twisted young man, worked in the code room of the American Embassy.  Convinced that a vast Jewish conspiracy was pushing the United States into an unwanted war, and that to help the enemy of the Jews was to help his own country, Kent took telegrams from the embassy and passed them to a pro-Nazi group.  By various channels, they reached Germany.  The German ambassador in Italy wired home a report of Roosevelt's reply to Churchill's request for 50 destroyers only seven days after it was received in London.  On May 20, however, Scotland Yard plugged the leak.  It arrested members of the pro-Nazi group for espionage and, with State Department approval, searched Kent's rooms. (p. 494)
The roughly 1,500 secret documents they found there made his guilt obvious.  We turned him over to the British.  They gave him a secret trial, and kept him in prison during the war years.

Kent claimed to be working for the best interests of the United States, just as Snowden does now.  I am inclined to think that Kent was being mostly honest when he made that claim.  Similarly, I wouldn't automatically reject Snowden's claim that he, too, is acting in what he sees as this country's best interests.

(For much more on Kent, consult this Wikipedia article, where you will learn, among other things, that he may have begun his spying in Moscow.)
- 4:19 PM, 16 June 2013   [link]


The New York Times Needs A Copy Editor With A Basic Understanding of Christianity.

Their mistakes, first on Easter, and now on 1st Corinthians, would be funny in a small town newspaper; in our newspaper of record, they are pathetic.
- 3:45 PM, 16 June 2013   [link]


This Morning A Suicidal Squirrel Took Down The Power To My Block For Several Hours:  I heard the bang, and knew what it was a few seconds later, when I tried to turn on a light.
- 3:07 PM, 16 June 2013   [link]


The Hawaii Facility Where Edward Snowden Worked Didn't Take Ordinary Security Precautions:  In particular, they didn't protect the USB ports.
Questions were raised Friday about security procedures at the ultra-secret National Security Agency, after it emerged that Edward Snowden, the contract employee who leaked details of the agency’s broad-scale data gathering on Americans, exceeded his authorized access to computer systems and smuggled out Top Secret documents on a USB drive — a thumb-sized data storage device banned from use on secret military networks.
. . . .
NSA officials “were laying down on their job if they didn’t disable the USB port,” the specialist said, referring to the small socket on the side of a computer where thumb drives are plugged in.
. . .
“There is easily available software to do that,” said the security specialist, noting that there were also low-tech, more permanent means available.

“I have seen places where they used a hot glue gun to block it,” he said of the USB port.
This is not a difficult vulnerability to understand.  An ordinary computer security expert should be able to recognize the vulnerabilities in the USB ports after just a few minutes of thought.  And if simple thought doesn't work, that expert has examples that demonstrate the problem.  As I have mentioned before (here and here), experience shows that having working USB ports (or CD writers) imposes unnecessary risks with secured computers.

(Oh, and a reminder:  If you see a USB drive lying on the ground, do not pick it up and stick it in your computer.)

The other problem mentioned, Snowden's ability to get unauthorized access to secret files does not have obvious fixes.  In principle, the operating system should have set off an immediate alarm, but it either didn't, or no one paid attention to the alarm.

(I can think of a number of ways Snowden might have gotten around access controls, most involving human failures, but I don't know enough about current procedures to guess which way or ways are most likely.)
- 1:57 PM, 15 June 2013   [link]


It Took Me A While To Figure Out this New Yorker cartoon — but I liked it when I did.

(The calendar version doesn't have explanatory title, if you are wondering why it took me so long.)
- 10:45 AM, 14 June 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  Bruce Thornton's "Brief History of Media Bias".

Sample:
Once reporters started coming out of colleges and universities, however, they were shaped by the leftist perspective of those institutions.  These perspectives, once marginal in American public discourse, became increasingly prominent in the press and television news shows.  Now the old progressive view that the press should not just report facts, but mold public opinion to achieve certain political ends, served an ideology fundamentally adverse to the free-market, liberal-democratic foundations of the American Republic.
One of the other consequences of this "professionalization" is that our "mainstream" journalists have lost touch with many ordinary Americans, notably most of the white working class, and even much of the middle class.

For example, it would never occur to most of the journalists in the Seattle area to go talk to the guys actually building the roads — even though they could learn a lot, if they did.
- 10:34 AM, 14 June 2013   [link]


Paul Krugman Is Still At It:  In his farewell column, Daniel Okrent, the first, and best, of the New York Times public editors, said that Krugman has "the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults".

Krugman has not changed since 2005.  in fact, if anything, he has gotten worse.   (Perhaps partly because no one at the Times has been willing to challenge Krugman, since Okrent left.)

A few days ago, I ran across a remarkable example of Krugman getting the facts wrong, making nasty blanket accusations, and — so far — not correcting the record, or apologizing.

If you are interested in the facts, Steven Landsburg has them.  The post is titled "Lies and Lying Liars" and ends with this harsh afterword:
Edited to add: It’s possible, of course, that Krugman simply made a rash mistake and posted before he’d realized what the facts were.  That happens to everyone from time to time.  But this is the same Paul Krugman who has urged us repeatedly not to give anyone else the benefit of this kind of doubt, so a decent respect for Krugman’s worldview really demands that we dismiss out of hand any temptation to cut him some slack.
(Incidentally, you don't need to know any economic theory to follow Landsburg's argument.)

It is hard to disagree with this summary judgment (in a comment) from "Douglas6":
Krugman’s problem is that he long ago decided to monetize his Nobel Prize.  Every Nobel Prize winner in Economics has lots of opportunities to do so.  Most decline.   Krugman decided to convert his Nobel into the currency of political power, exercised through his platform at the Times.  That meant discarding all the attributes that got him the Nobel in the first place: careful research, a scrupulous regard for details, honesty in responding to opposing arguments, and so on.  That’s why there is so little respect for Krugman-the-pundit (versus the old academic Krugman) among economists these days.
Though I think Krugman had gone over to the dark side long before he actually received the Nobel Prize in 2008.

But that judgment has not reached many newspaper editors, who continue to carry his column.

By way of Greg Mankiw.
- 9:41 AM, 14 June 2013   [link]


Paying Whistle Blowers To Go Away:  Apparently, it's a common practice in Britain.
When is a bribe not a bribe?  Apparently, it’s when taxpayers’ money is used to stop NHS staff blowing the whistle on clinical malpractice and criminal negligence in hospitals.

This week it was revealed that the health service has spent more than £2 million on 52 secret severance deals containing strict gagging clauses to prevent disgruntled ex-employees speaking out.
. . .
NHS employees who think that the public have a right to know what is going on in our hospitals are first being intimidated into silence and then, if all else fails, given a fat cheque to go away and keep quiet.
There have been similar payoffs in other parts of the British government — though I suspect some of those are payoffs, not for silence, but to get a problem employee to go away, quietly.

In general, governments should not offer payments for silence, with some exceptions for the security services.  Bureaucrats will always be tempted to bury problems, or pay them to go away, so we shouldn't make it easy for them to do so.

(And not just government bureaucrats.  Some years ago, I read a story about a remarkably productive researcher, who would not leave the women around him alone.   His company decided, very pragmatically, to pay off the women who complained, but to keep him, despite his little quirk.)
- 8:08 AM, 14 June 2013   [link]


Wire Tapping Teddy Roosevelt:  In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, unhappy with the policies of his successor, William Howard Taft (and perhaps a little bored), challenged Taft, first at the Republican convention, and then with an independent candidacy.

Politics was at least as rough a game then, as it is now.  On Tuesday, I quoted from the "taps and bugs" entry in Safire's dictionary.  That same entry has a story about Theodore Roosevelt, quoted from a 1919 biography of Roosevelt by William Roscoe Thayer.   (This biography, I assume.)
Roosevelt had not intended to appear at the Convention, but when he discovered that the long-distance telephone from Chicago to Oyster Bay, by which his managers conferred with him, was being tapped, he changed his mind. (pp. 783-784)
(Just so it is clear: I'm quoting Safire, who was quoting Thayer.)

Presumably, whoever tapped that line was a supporter of Taft.  (Taft himself would probably not have approved of the tapping.)  Note that Roosevelt did not take legal action, but instead changed his headquarters, in order to escape the spying.

As you may have guessed, this post, like the one on Tuesday, is part of a series.

I hope you will already have concluded that there was no "golden age" in America, when no one spied on their political opponents, and that political leaders were as quick to exploit the shady side of new methods of communication, as anyone else.  I am not writing this series to excuse misbehavior, then or now, but I do hope to give you some historical perspective.

(You can download the Thayer biography, for free, here.  The Amazon reviews are almost all positive.)
- 8:14 AM, 13 June 2013   [link]


MSNBC Doesn't Know Much About History:  Even recent history.
Former Alabama Governor George Wallace was many things: segregationist, lawyer, Methodist.  But one thing he most certainly was not: a Republican.  But during a segment of last night’s All In on MSNBC, a chyron mistakenly identified the well-known racist governor as a member of the GOP, despite his affiliation with the Democratic Party of that era.
It is true that Wallace ran an independent presidential candidacy in 1968 (and almost elected Hubert Humphrey); it is also true that he was welcomed back into the Democratic Party in 1972.   (I think it likely that his candidacy that year helped George McGovern win the nomination.)

There are some parallels between Wallace and Al Sharpton.  Both used racial demagoguery to win power.  Wallace was courted by "mainstream" Democrats (and a Republican or two), just as Sharpton is now.  Both, in true populist fashion, claimed to be fighting the "establishment".

(There may be another parallel.  It has never been clear to me just how much Wallace believed what he said, and it is not clear to me how much Sharpton believes what he says.   Wallace may have been, and Sharpton may be, as much opportunists, as racists.)
- 7:26 AM, 13 June 2013   [link]


Cheney Was Right About Obama, Admits The New Yorker:   Grudgingly.
After Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President but before he took the oath of office, Vice-President Dick Cheney gave an exit interview to Rush Limbaugh.  Under George W. Bush, Cheney was the architect, along with his legal counsel, David Addington, of a dramatic expansion of executive authority—a power grab that Obama criticized, fiercely, on the campaign trail, and promised to “reverse.”  But when Limbaugh inquired about this criticism Cheney swatted it aside, saying, “My guess is that, once they get here and they’re faced with the same problems we deal with every day, they will appreciate some of the things we’ve put in place.”

I was reminded of that line during last week’s revelations about mass-surveillance programs administered by the National Security Agency.  When Cheney said it, the remark struck me as cynical and self-serving.  Now it seems prescient.
The contributor, Patrick Radden Keefe, doesn't take the next two obvious steps and ask whether Obama was sincere in his attacks on the Bush administration programs, or whether Obama may have learned that those programs were sensible responses to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks.

(Those who know a little history will be amused by Keefe's claim that there was a "dramatic expansion of executive power" under Bush, and will refer him to presidents Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton.)
- 6:55 AM, 13 June 2013   [link]


Pistol Packin' Grandma.
A burglar came in for the shock of his life when he burglarized the house of a 72-year-old grandmother and her disabled World War II veteran husband.

The elderly lady turned Dirty Harry as she defended her home in Orange County, California, and her wheel-chair-bound husband - scaring off the 31-year-old assailant by firing a single shot from her .357magnum revolver as he tried to break through the front door.
I might not have linked to this story, except for this detail:
The stunned intruder apologized to Mrs Cooper after she fired, she recalled, telling her, 'I'm sorry, ma'am.  I'm leaving.  Please don't shoot.'
Which suggests that maybe there is something to that an-armed-society-is-a-polite-society argument.  Especially since Mrs. Cooper apologized for her language, afterwards.

(Here's the song that inspired the post title.)
- 6:57 PM, 12 June 2013   [link]


Most Bloggers Will Like Today's New Yorker cartoon.
- 6:23 PM, 12 June 2013   [link]


The Washington Post Wonders Why the Obama Administration is helping the Venezuelan regime.
One government, however, has chosen to toss Mr. Maduro a lifeline: the United States.   Last week Secretary of State John F. Kerry took time to meet Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on the sidelines of an Organization of American States meeting, then announced that the Obama administration would like to “find a new way forward” with the Maduro administration and “quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors.”  Mr. Kerry even thanked Mr. Maduro for “taking steps toward this encounter” — words that the state-run media trumpeted.
And so do I.

It would be different if the regime had been making friendly gestures to United States recently — but they haven't been.
- 12:47 PM, 12 June 2013   [link]


Does President Obama Actually Like Rap?  President Kennedy pretended to like classical music, but he didn't know much about it, as President Obama reminded us in 2009.
"Now, if any of you in the audience are newcomers to classical music, and aren’t sure when to applaud, don’t be nervous.  (Laughter.)  Apparently, President Kennedy had the same problem.  (Laughter.)  He and Jackie held several classical music events here, and more than once he started applauding when he wasn’t supposed to.  (Laughter.)  So the social secretary worked out a system where she’d signal him -- (laughter) -- through a crack in the door to the cross-hall.

"Now, fortunately, I have Michelle to tell me when to applaud.  (Laughter.)  The rest of you are on your own.  (Laughter.)
(At that time, liking classical music was a sign that you were intelligent and cultured — and the Kennedy political operation very much wanted us to think that Kennedy had those qualities.)

President Obama has said that he regularly listens to some rap artists.  But I have long wondered whether he actually does.

Erik Neilson, an Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Richmond, never addresses that question, but does say that Obama "Played the Hip Hop Community", that he got their political support, but has pursued policies that have hurt American blacks.
So how is it that Jay-Z, Diddy, Jeezy, Kendrick Lamar, Common, Will.i.am, 2Chainz, Big Sean, Jadakiss, Snoop Dogg/Lion, Ice Cube, and other well-known artists have continued to support Obama publicly, even after the benefit of four years of hindsight?  Perhaps, having constructed narratives of themselves as street-savvy entertainers, they are reluctant to admit they've been hustled by a Harvard-educated law professor who's got better game than they do.
As the Instapundit might say, Jay-Z and company were rubes — like so many other supporters of Obama.

Nielsen and I disagree on most issues, but he is right when he says that blacks have not prospered while Obama has been president.
- 10:01 AM, 12 June 2013   [link]


Was This Intended as a joke?
He's been commander in chief, Time magazine's 1993 man of the year, had hopes of becoming "First Laddie" of the United States and now former U.S. President Bill Clinton is in line for a new title - Father of the Year.

The non-profit National Father's Day Council plans to award him that honor at a New York fundraiser for Save the Children on Tuesday.
Probably not, though they must have known some would take it that way.  I suppose they think the money he will raise for them will be worth any controversy.
- 9:26 AM, 12 June 2013   [link]


The Younger The Child Is When It Is Murdered, The Less We Care:  If you doubt that, read about this example from Arizona.
A woman who killed her newborn son in 2009 was sentenced on Monday to four years' probation and 200 days of work-release in the Pima County jail.

Denise Pesqueira pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and child abuse in the death of the baby.
Do you think Pesqueira would have received the same light sentence if the boy had been five months old when he was murdered?  Five years old?  Ten years old?  Fifteen years old?

I don't.  (And I have seen some statistical data, though I don't remember the details now, that supports that grim conclusion.)
- 8:02 AM, 12 June 2013
Some evolutionary theorists have a straightforward explanation for the greater value of older children.  The older the child, the more the parents have invested in it, and the more likely the child will repay that investment with grandchildren.   We have to remember that our not-too-remote ancestors could not expect all of their children to reach adulthood.  The explanation is plausible, and may even be true.
- 4:49 PM, 13 June 2013   [link]


Bush Rising, Obama Falling:  From Gallup.
Americans' views of former president George W. Bush have improved, with 49% now viewing him favorably and 46% unfavorably.  That is the first time since 2005 that opinions of him have been more positive than negative.
And from RealClearPolitics, we see that Obama's current average approval rating is 47.0 percent, and his disapproval 47.5 percent.  A look at the chart will show you that Obama's approval ratings have been falling pretty steadily since his post-election honeymoon.

Bush's rise doesn't surprise Gallup, since most ex-presidents get more favorable ratings from the public after they leave office, and Obama's fall doesn't surprise me, since I have been predicting it, since before he was first elected, and soon after.

(I think that I was right to predict that Obama would adopt few of Bush's domestic policies.  In fact, I would say that Obama has adopted as few of Bush's domestic policies, as he could get away with, politically.)
- 8:11 PM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Lexie Kinder's Robot:  If you like feel-good stories (as I do, from time to time), you will like this one.
Born with a chronic heart disorder that weakened her immune system and made attending school risky, Lexie, 9, was tutored at her home in Sumter, S.C., for years.  But this spring, her family began experimenting with an alternative — a camera-and-Internet-enabled robot that swivels around the classroom and streams two-way video between her school and house.

“She immediately loved the robot," her mother, Cristi Kinder, said, of the device, called a VGo, which Lexie controls from her home computer.  Lexie dressed up the robot, which is about the height of her third-grade classmates, in pink ribbons and a tutu, and she renamed it Princess VGo.
(The company was surprised by that last part, but they shouldn't have been, if they knew many little girls.)

The robot isn't terribly expensive, $6,000 according to the New York Times article, $5,000 according to this article.  It costs a little over a $1,000 a year to operate and maintain.

Lexie isn't the only student with such a robot.  The articles differ, but there may be as many as sixty or so in classrooms, right now, and the number is growing rapidly.  Computer science Professor Maja Mataric expects the price to come down rapidly as the numbers grow.   That seems likely to me, since the components, as far as I can guess them, shouldn't be terribly expensive.

According to the articles, the other kids in the classrooms adapt rapidly to the robots, which, again, seems likely to me.

You can see a picture of Lexie operating the robot here, and you can read about the company at their site.
- 5:47 PM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Chuckle:  Libertarian Megan McArdle is ambivalent about Edward Snowden — except for the way he treated his girlfriend.
So in coming days we will almost certainly realize that Edward Snowden is not like the rest of us.  In fact, the details of his resume already released hint as much: a high school dropout somehow turned intelligence worker, who kept his live-in girlfriend in the dark about what he was doing and told her he was going on a business trip while he disappeared to Hong Kong.  That's a hell of a way to break up with someone.  This detail didn't attract a huge amount of attention admidst all the other surprise revelations that came out over the weekend, but I found it quite striking.  As one of my friends noted, if a live-in boyfriend had done this to me, he'd have more than the CIA to worry about.
If I understand McArdle correctly, it may be OK to betray your country, your friends, your employer, and your family, but you must never betray your girlfriend.

(Here, apparently, is the girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, if you are curious.)
- 2:05 PM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Edward Snowden Hasn't Always Told the truth.

For example:
Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has fired Edward Snowden, the computer technician who acknowledged leaking classified documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post, the company announced.

Booz Allen on Tuesday morning also called into question one detail Snowden gave about himself when it updated a statement it released Sunday evening with a single sentence: “Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013, for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy,” the company said.
That seems high, but more plausible than Snowden's claim that he was making about $200,000 a year.  (Snowden may have been counting the cash value of benefits, but it's hard to see how those could come to $78,000 a year.)

The Army also called into question parts of his story, as you can see in the rest of that brief Politico article.

Prudent people will, I think, be skeptical about everything else he has said.
- 12:41 PM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Were Campaign Contributions One Of The Reasons The State Department Blocked Investigations?  Here's the CBS story.
CBS News' John Miller reports that according to an internal State Department Inspector General's memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off.   The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.  Among them: allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut "engaged in sexual assaults" on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge and that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's security detail "engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries" -- a problem the report says was "endemic."

The memo also reveals details about an "underground drug ring" was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
. . .
In one specific and striking cover-up, State Department agents told the Inspector General they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
The New York Post is more specific about the charges, and that ambassador.
A DS agent was called off a case against US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman over claims that he solicited prostitutes, including minors.

“The agent began his investigation and had determined that the ambassador routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” says the memo.
(DS = Diplomatic Security)

We must immediately remind ourselves that this is, so far, just a charge.  But the pattern is troubling, and Howard Gutman was a very big contributor to the Obama 2008 campaign.

Incidentally, Gutman is extremely popular in Belgium — and not just among members of the oldest profession — for now.

If half of these charges are true, I think we can conclude that Hillary Clinton should have spent more time managing the State Department, and less time flying from one country to another.
- 9:12 AM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Edward Snowden Did Contribute To Ron Paul's Presidential Campaign:  Twice.  And, as we know, for many politicians, campaign contributions can make up for a lot of sins.
An obligatory follow-up to my post yesterday predicting that Rand will, eventually, call for jail time for Snowden.  Charlie Rose tries to pin him down on that no fewer than three times (the third comes at the very end of the clip) and Rand ducks each and every one — . . .
I'm not saying those contributions are the only reason, or even the principal reason, for Rand Paul's current position, but I don't think we should ignore the possibility that those contributions are one of the reasons that Rand Paul was ducking that question.
- 8:37 AM, 11 June 2013   [link]


China's Cyber War Against The United States:  Although you are going to see far more coverage of the NSA leaks in the next weeks, and, possibly, months, the Chinese cyber attacks on the United States are a far more serious problem — even if the very worst claims of leaker Edward Snowden turn out to be true.

How much more serious?  At an absolute minimum, I would say five or six orders of magnitude more serious.  At an absolute minimum.

This Wall Street Journal editorial gives us a sober summary of those attacks, and should be read with care.

For example:
Two decades later, China is a confident military power that bullies its neighbors and has the Pentagon concerned about its expanding navy, anti-satellite missiles and especially its ability to sabotage American military systems and electricity grid.  Cyber attacks were essential to this great military leap forward, and Beijing won't give them up merely because Washington asks.

China also gains economically from cyber spying.  Years of Chinese commercial cyber theft have yielded "the greatest transfer of wealth in history," says U.S. National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander.  To maintain rapid growth, China needs technology that its domestic firms don't produce and that means pillaging foreign intellectual property.
So China has been preparing to attack us through our networks, and has been stealing us blind.

Even worse, there is the possibility that another incident, like the collision between an EP-3 and a Chinese fighter, the Hainan Island incident, could lead to war.

According to the Journal, some in the Chinese armed forces appear to be looking for a fight:
Consider the 1972 U.S.-Soviet agreement on preventing incidents at sea, a rare Cold War deal that mostly worked—but only because the Soviet navy was fairly professional and subject to civilian control.  China's navy responds with curses when U.S. vessels give customary salutes at sea and has threatened U.S. and Japanese ships with weapons-guiding radar.   It isn't even clear that Beijing's civilian leaders control the PLA.
PLA = People's Liberation Army)

Given these Chinese attacks, and threats, and attitudes, we need a president who can think — and act — strategically, a president who will take the time to really understand, as much as we can, the Chinese regime, and then do what needs to be done.  We need, in short, a president who can think like Richard M. Nixon.

Unfortunately, the earliest we can have such a president is January 2017.
- 7:48 AM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Chessboxing:  It's a real sport, though it may not sound like one.  I had heard of it before, but had forgotten about it, until I read this New York Times article, which has lots of interesting color, including a story about how George Foreman helped a chess player become a boxer, but not much on the actual rules, which you can find here.
A full match consists of eleven rounds: six rounds of chess, each four minutes long, and five rounds of boxing, each three minutes long (four minutes under amateur rules).[4]  The match begins with a chess round which is followed by a boxing round.   Rounds of chess and boxing alternate until the end of the match.[1][5]   There is a one-minute break between each round, during which competitors cool out and change gear.[4][5]  Rules of fast chess are used, and a competitor only has a total of twelve minutes to use for all his chess moves.  Player's chess time is measured using a chess clock.[5]

A competitor may win the match during a boxing round by knockout or a technical stoppage by the referee, by achieving a checkmate or if the opponent's twelve minutes run out during a chess round, or by the opponent's resignation at any point.[1][5]   If the chess game reaches a stalemate, the scores from the boxing rounds are used to determine the winner.  If the boxing score (calculated on a round-by-round basis) is also a draw, the player with the black pieces is awarded the win on the grounds that his/her achieving a stalemate despite White's generally acknowledged first-move advantage in chess is evidence of a superior performance by Black.[4]
According to the article in the Times, players sometimes deliberately lose at chess, so that they don't have to go back into the ring.

Might be a good sport for those in training for the special forces.

(You will see the sport called "chess boxing", "chess-boxing", and "chessboxing".  I am using the third, although I like the second better, because that's what the official site uses.)
- 3:13 PM, 10 June 2013   [link]


When Did Wire Tapping Start?  About ten minutes after the first telegraph was installed.  All right, that's an exaggeration, but less of an exaggeration than you might think.

Here's some history from Safire's New Political Dictionary:  (Which, confusingly, is older than his Political Dictionary.) In the American Civil War, the two sides not only tapped each other's telegraph wires, but used the word "tapping" to describe what they were doing.

The invention of the telephone gave would-be tappers even more opportunities.
In 1878, two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, George G. Preston warned: "The observations made in the course of those experiments convinced those present that the telephone presents facilities for the dangerous practice of tapping the wire which may make it useful or dangerous, according as it is used for proper or dangerous purposes."

[lexicographer] Mr. [Peter] Tamony wrote the author: "Telephone wiretapping, according to the New York police, dates from 1895, when a former employee of the N. Y. Telephone company walked into headquarters to suggest the possibilities of such information gathering and surveillance.   However, another story bases such methods from a chance discovery of the "Extension telephone" in a home by a telephone company employee in 1909, this man becoming the "King of Wiretappers" in the service of the U. S. government from 1920 to 1949.  During World War I, eavesdropping was widely encouraged, the government tapping thousands of lines from a central office switchboard set up in the N. Y. Customs House.  Whenever a suspected alien lifted up his receiver, a light flashed, and a stenographer recorded the conversation." (p. 783)
Early users of the telegraph soon learned to disguise, or even encrypt, their messages, if they wanted to keep them private.  (I believe that encryption devices for telephones came along a little before World War II, and were not completely effective until much later.)

(Safire knew something about tapping, since his own home phone was tapped by the FBI in 1969.  He was writing speeches for Nixon at the time, and was suspected of leaking information to the press.)
- 2:07 PM, 10 June 2013
Update and correction:  According to David Kahn, "scramblers" were invented for phones in the 1920s and 1930s, and were used extensively in World War II.  They weren't very effective against a technically competent enemy; the Germans were able to intercept radioed phone calls, and "descramble" conversations between Roosevelt, Churchill, and other Allied leaders, early in the war.  (Later in the war, Roosevelt and Churchill switched to encrypted teletype conversations, which were much more secure.)

Because of those vulnerabilities, security experts called the scrambling systems "privacy" systems, rather than "secrecy" systems.
- 7:12 AM, 11 June 2013   [link]


Another British Terrorist Plot foiled.
Six men from the West Midlands have been jailed for up to 19-and-a-half years each for planning to bomb an English Defence League rally.

Omar Khan, Jewel Uddin, Mohammed Hasseen, Mohammed Saud, Zohaib Ahmed and Anzal Hussain had all admitted terrorism offences in April.

Five of them had taken a bomb, knives and sawn-off shotguns to last June's rally in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
The article says that the plotters were "caught by chance".

It occurs to me that the police may be fibbing slightly, that they may have good reason to stop the car in which two of them were found, with weapons — but that the police prefer not to share that information, hoping to catch more terrorists in the same way.

(If they did, they did not need to reveal it in court, because the six all pled guilty, in return for a few years off their sentences.)

Anyone who follows the activities of American police knows that they often stop a gang banger, or some other miscreant, for a missing tail light, or something similar.  And in at least ninety percent of those cases, I suspect that the police have other reasons for stopping the suspect.

(Does the BBC article use the "M word" to describe the men?  No, but there is a clue near the end.

Here's the Wikipedia article on the English Defense League.  I would say that you should double or triple your usual caution about political articles in Wikipedia, when you read it, but it will still give you some idea of who they are.)
- 1:21 PM, 10 June 2013   [link]


Will President Obama Be Condoning Human Trafficking When He Visits Tanzania?  That's what Dana Milbank believes.
By selecting Tanzania as one of the three countries that will receive a presidential visit on that trip, the Obama administration is honoring a government that has been in a multiyear diplomatic dispute with the United States over human trafficking.

Specifically, a U.S. court in 2008 issued a $1 million judgment against a Tanzanian diplomat stationed in Washington because he and his wife held a young woman against her will as a domestic servant at their Bethesda home, refusing to pay her and abusing her for four years until she escaped.  The diplomat, Alan Mzengi, didn’t contest the civil lawsuit and, instead of paying the default judgment, returned to Tanzania, where at last report he served as an adviser to President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete — the very person Obama will meet with.
And, given those facts, I am inclined to agree with Milbank.

Does President Obama not know about this dispute?  Does he not care?  Or does he think, as he so often appears to, that ordinary rules don't apply to him, that his visit will not appear to be condoning — let me be blunt — modern slavery?

(You hear of similar cases of servants kept as slaves from time to time.  Usually, the abusers come from nations that have had long histories of slavery.  As you may know, one region of Tanzania, Zanzibar, was the center of the East African slave trade.)
- 8:40 AM, 10 June 2013   [link]


Is Edward Snowden A Whistle Blower, A Leaker, Or A Traitor?   You can hear all three descriptions applied to him.  Using the first or the last prejudges his case, so, for now, I will use "leaker", and would encourage others to do the same.

(It is worth mentioning that whistle blowers have specific legal protection under US laws, and that Snowden, for whatever reasons, chose not to go the legal route.)
- 8:16 AM, 10 June 2013   [link]


Bob Baer Is Also Wondering about a Chinese connection.
Former CIA officer Bob Baer said on CNN Sunday evening officials are speculating that Edward Snowden's whistleblowing could be "potential Chinese espionage."
One of the reasons I doubt Snowden's story is that he claims to want asylum in Iceland.   You don't have to be an expert in geography to realize that people don't generally stop off in Hong Kong on their way to Iceland.

Nor do you have to be an expert in Icelandic law to realize that you will have a stronger claim to asylum, if you are actually on their territory when you request it.
- 7:53 AM, 10 June 2013   [link]


Edward Snowden, The (Apparent) NSA Leaker, Fled to Hong Kong.
On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since.  He chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.
That's his story, but it occurs to me, as I said in a comment, that Hong Kong is right next to, and now a part of, a large Asian country that has been engaged in massive cyber theft of our secrets for years, and that the timing of his flight from justice was terribly convenient for that country.

It's like spotting a big time drug dealer in El Paso.  You automatically think that investigators should look for any possible connections to a nearby country.

Not there necessarily are any connections, but in both cases, you want that possibility investigated.  Thoroughly.
- 3:38 PM, 9 June 2013   [link]


The United States Could Be Doing Better In Job Creation:   We know that because some of our competitors are doing better.

Employment gains in nine countries, 2013

We might dismiss the better results in Australia and Canada by ascribing them to the greater share that mining and oil production play in their economies.  Right now, North Dakota is doing better than South Dakota, but few would say that all of the difference is due to better economic policies in North Dakota.

But it is hard — I would say impossible — to make the same argument about Germany.  (Or Sweden, the United Kingdom, or the Netherlands, for that matter.)   In fact, the German performance deserves our closest attention, just because there are so many similarities between our economies.

I am inclined to give much of the credit for the German gains to a man I dislike greatly, former chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Most voters associated Schröder with the Agenda 2010 reform program, which included cuts in the social welfare system (national health insurance, unemployment payments, pensions), lowered taxes, and reformed regulations on employment and payment.

After the 2002 election, the SPD steadily lost support in opinion polls.  Many increasingly perceived Schröder's Third Way program to be a dismantling of the German welfare state.
Those changes lowered labor costs in Germany and made their economy much more competitive.  Most voters didn't like the changes, as you can see from that Wikipedia article, but the voters benefited, on the whole, though not immediately.

Those who have been paying attention to American politics will recall that, for decades after 1980, the United States economy was much better at creating jobs than the European economies.   Our advantage was often ascribed, in part, to our relatively free labor markets, making it easier to fire and hire, and to our relatively smaller welfare state.

Germany's recent performance strengthens those arguments.

By way of this New York Times article, where you will find an entirely different set of explanations for Germany's employment gains.   (I should add that I don't disagree with some of those explanations, but I do think they are missing the main one.)

 You can download the Bureau of Labor Statistics report here, in HTML, XLS, or PDF formats.

(Caveat:  Comparing employment and unemployment across countries is always tricky.  The authors say that they have adjusted those numbers to fit American definitions.   The differences are so large that I believe that what the chart is showing us is true, but you should be aware of possible problems.)
- 9:50 AM, 9 June 2013   [link]